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ROMANS 2:1-2:29
Last updated 7/21/00

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou
condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;  (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost
transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Comments on Romans 2:1-2:29

In this chapter, Paul concludes his argument against the gentile world that began at 1:18. Verses 2:1-16 is the second "apostrophe" of the letter, and could apply to either the gentile world (a continuation of 1:18-32) or could be considered the transition to his discussion of the Jewish world. The improper and arrogant attitude of judging others (when we are equally guilty and saved by grace) is the subject of these sixteen verses. Paul will offer the correct example of attitude and behavior in Romans 12:1-15:13.

The discussion with "the Jew" of 2:17-29 is the third "apostrophe" of the letter. Although Paul's main message in this letter is to the gentiles in the congregation, he also knows that this will be read aloud in the Synagogue. Therefore, both the Jews who believe in Yeshua AND the Jews that do not (yet) believe in Him, will be in "earshot" of this message.

Paul's explanation of the Jewish position before God (2:17-2:29) serves two purposes. First, to let the gentiles and Jews know that they are on a "level playing field" with God, regarding both condemnation and salvation. Also, Paul will now be able to "fairly" address any problems he has with the gentiles (later in the letter), as they will not regard themselves second-class citizens or victims of a double standard.

2:1-2:5

As mentioned in the opening comments above, Paul has structured his letter in a fashion that certain general issues he raises in the beginning of it, can be brought up again later in the letter to teach a specific lesson. In this case, Paul is not only addressing the hypocrisy of judging, but also that God's will for mankind is to realize that each one of us sins, and that it is only by His mercy that any of us are "saved."

In turn, believers should lead lives that are not centered on their own "rights," but are rather focused on the "higher purpose" in any situation. Paul will further illustrate this in chapter 8 (teaching on serving the spirit and not the flesh), and then focusing on specific gentile behaviors that need modification in chapters 12-15.

2:4  despisest thou the riches of his goodness

Following or not following God's ways does not always bring an immediate reward or punishment. Here Paul warns those who "think they're getting away with something," that they are not being penalized because God is merciful and trying to lead them to repentance. Should they turn a blind eye to this, they will follow the path he outlined earlier in 1:21-32.

This is not a "new" teaching:

Ecclesiastes 8:11 - Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

Conversely, following God's ways does not necessarily bring reward in this life, but we are assured of it in the next. If we are practicing Torah or other acts of kindness hoping to "get something in return," we are no better than spoiled children, and God will treat us accordingly.

2:6-2:11

To some it may seem that Paul is inconsistent in his this letter, preaching that no one can earn salvation (it being by the grace of God), while also teaching that God, "will render to every man according to his deeds." This is a problem for the modern reader (i.e., some Christians) who have been conditioned to accept a "faith versus works" theology.

As discussed in our background material, the faith of Yeshua, Paul and the rest of the first century believers was one where works are an integral part of faith. To "have faith" in God/Yeshua did not mean simply "believing" certain facts to be true (even "in your heart"). True faith is indeed a gift, which cannot be earned. But coming to faith, means repentance, which is a turning from following the ways of the world to a path of obedience to God -- learning and doing His instruction -- which He gave in the Torah. Gentile believers are to do this (Acts 15:21), and Jews are to know that possession of the oracles of God does not guarantee righteousness - His commands are to be followed.

The wise Solomon wrote that trust (faith) in God, is based on following the Torah:

Proverbs 3:1-5 - My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

2:6  Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

Paul elaborates on these "deeds" in verses 2:7-2:9a. God does not play favorites as He is One God to all  (the Shema). Also, we again see works as part of faith. (Also stated in 2:13.)

God's rewards and punishments are meted out according to what a person deserves. The concept is called middah keneged middah - "measure for measure"

Yeshua stated the same in His teachings:

Luke 12:46-48 - And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

Simply "believing" in the One true God, or that Yeshua is the Messiah, does not constitute true faith:

Matthew 7:21 - Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

James 2:17-26 - Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

2:9-10  of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile

Paul shows that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23; 5:12) applies to Jews as well. (Again the Shema is at the heart of this teaching.) As the gospel and its blessings are to the Jew first, judgment is as well, as the Jews have the Torah.

2:12  as many as have sinned without law

Paul reiterates his position of chapter 1. Gentiles have no excuse even without the written Torah.

2:13 the doers of the law shall be justified.

Once again, Paul makes clear that Torah-based works are part of faith. This is not to say we earn our salvation. Rather, thankful obedience is both commanded, and a sign of a right relationship with God. Paul is also sending a message to any Jews who may have regarded their privileged status as not requiring observance to the Torah.

"John the Baptist" dealt with this pride among His brethren as well:

Matthew 3:9 - And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

2:14  For when the Gentiles, which have not the law

Like any good teacher, Paul knows repetition is important. Again, he stresses that God will judge gentiles based on what they should know. This raises the discussion of those who never hear the word of God but know to repent when they sin. Will God "save them" without their knowing who the Messiah is?

Genesis 18:25b - Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

2:15  the law written in their hearts

There is an allusion here to Jeremiah 31:33 and the New Covenant, which is promised to Israel. Paul uses this language in the context of gentile faithfulness, in that those who follow the One true God would share in the blessings, of the Millennium and World to Come, promised to Israel. Again, the theme of the Shema comes into play as there is One God (with His rewards) for faithful Jews and gentiles. (That faithfulness being defined by His Torah.)

2:15 - their conscience also bearing witness

Elsewhere, Paul speaks of the effect on the "conscience" of man when affected by self-righteousness and continued sin:

1 Timothy 4:2 - Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

2:17-2:29

This is Paul's third "apostrophe" - this one addressed to the Jewish world. Paul uses these "apostrophes" in Romans to point out pretentiousness of Jews, gentile pagans, and (as we will see later in his letter), gentile believers in Yeshua as well.

This was a lesson Peter says he was taught by God, which led to the decision of the Jerusalem council of Acts 15:

Acts 10:28b - but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

Paul also takes aim at the Jewish missionaries of his day, stating that Jewish hypocrisy causes blasphemy on the part of the gentiles. Paul states that a Jew does indeed have an advantage (3:1-2), but it is of no use to him if he uses what God has given him to boast and act in a hypocritical manner.

There is more to Paul's criticism of some of his fellow Jews in this chapter, than what meets the eye however. Paul will use the point he makes against the Jews, to more effectively argue against gentile believers in chapters 12-15. As we will see, both groups are guilty of claiming special status that causes them to act arrogantly toward the other.

2:18 - And knowest his will

God's will is revealed in the Torah. "Trusting in the Lord," means to follow the commandments of Torah, which "stand fast forever":

Psalm 111 - Praise ye the LORD. I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation. The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever. He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion. He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant. He hath shewed his people the power of his works, that he may give them the heritage of the heathen. The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness. He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

Romans 7:12 - Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you

Israel is to be God's "Messiah," anointed to be a light to the gentiles:

Isaiah 42:6 - I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles

Isaiah 49:6 - And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.

Matthew 5:13-16 - Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Yeshua made it clear, that the Pharisees had the truth of the Torah in their teachings, but criticized them for the same thing Paul does in this chapter, hypocrisy and arrogance:

Matthew 23:1-3 - Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

2:25  circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law:

Paul addresses the subject of "covenantal arrogance" - the idea some Jews had that they were righteous before God simply because they were Jews. Paul makes it clear that possessing the Torah is only advantageous for Jews if they are following it. Paul uses the concept of "boasting" in the Torah, and teaches that Jews have nothing to "boast" about.

2:25  thy circumcision is made uncircumcision

This verse (as with any in Scripture) does not stand alone. Some might take this to mean that as the Jews violate Torah (including rejecting Messiah) that God is done with them as His chosen people. Paul makes it extremely clear in chapters 9-11 of this letter, that this is not the case. Such Jews remain God's chosen, but now are not fulfilling the role they were given; "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel." (9:6).

2:27 shall not uncircumcision ... judge thee

This does not mean gentiles will sit with God in judgment of Jews one day. Rather, the obedience of righteous gentiles will serve as witness (along with Torah) against Jews who violate Torah.

2:29  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly

Unfortunately, this verse is often used out of context by some people to show that believers are all "spiritual Jews" and God no longer distinguishes between Jew and gentile in any way. The context however is quite plain - Paul is "talking TO Jews" here - not to gentiles. The verse comes at the end of several, showing that being a Jew outwardly means nothing to God. He demanded circumcision of their hearts (being "born again") since their beginnings with Abraham.

This is the same lesson Yeshua taught in John, chapter 3. Recall that He chastised Nicodemus for not knowing that he had to be born again. As a "teacher of Israel," Nicodemus should have known that Moses himself taught this. (For more on this subject see Section II of, "Not Subject to the Law of God?" in the YashaNet library.)

2:29 - in the spirit, and not in the letter

This does not mean that one no longer has to follow the commandments of Torah. They are all still valid (Matthew 5:17-21, Romans 3:31). Following in the spirit means performing the commandments in faith as part of a proper relationship to the One true God. This means not only keeping the Torah's minimal requirements, but going beyond them, as Yeshua taught in Matthew, chapters 5-7.

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